How can the leaders of democracies sit by and clap as athletes ski, luge and ice-skate in a country committing a 21st-century genocide? President Biden, at least, has decided he cannot.
The White House announced Monday that it will not send a single U.S. official to the Beijing Winter Olympics in February. Symbolic as the move may be — members of Team USA will still be permitted to go for the gold — it matters. The games are themselves largely about symbols: What a host country craves as much as the honor of having the most talented people in sports grace its rinks and slopes is the honor of having the most powerful people in the world come watch. China seeks legitimacy in the globe’s eyes. Now well aware of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s destruction of democracy in Hong Kong, the cultural annihilation of the country’s Uyghur Muslim minority and concerns about the well-being of tennis star Peng Shuai, the United States has declined to lend it.
It is clear the administration’s aim in refusing to participate in the ceremony while still allowing athletes to participate in the actual competition is to punish China, without punishing the people who have worked much of their lives with the goal of seeing how they stack up against the rest of the world. That’s reasonable enough. But it also means there’s more to do to deny a dictatorial regime the glittering display it desires. U.S. allies should follow the example set by Mr. Biden; yet even that is only a start.
The athletes who attend the Games without a delegation behind them must speak out in solidarity with the victims of repression; media, including official broadcaster NBC, must spend page space and airtime on telling the truth about the appalling abuses that can’t be papered over with bedecked arenas or burning torches; the U.S. officials who otherwise would have cheered from the stands must speak out in condemnation from here at home — reminding everyone why they’re skipping out on the spectacle, and from what the spectacle is designed to distract.
Finally, there are the sponsors. The Olympics are about athletic prowess and national pride, but they are also very much about money. The businesses — Coca-Cola, Visa, Airbnb among them — which pay big for exclusive marketing rights that allow them to slap five colored rings on commercials hawking their products, should be ashamed to help Mr. Xi’s regime airbrush crimes against humanity. By endorsing an event in a country committing genocide, they effectively endorse the country as a worthy host — precisely the stamp of approval the White House wants to avoid.
The whole world — countries and companies and citizens everywhere — must call the Games what they are: the Genocide Olympics.
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